FEATURE-The human cost of defending Libya's oil

Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:00pm GMT

It is little wonder then that there are still many Libyans prepared to make dangerous journeys to isolated areas of the vast Saharan desert, accompanied by squads of rebel fighters or simply armed locals, to evaluate the damage inflicted by the war and to carry out essential repairs.

"Makes sense really; no point in getting rid of the regime if you're not willing to then do what it takes to repair the damage to the economy (and) oil sector," said Zara Rahman, a researcher at OpenOil, an organisation that promotes transparency in the oil industry.

Rahman spent a week in October interviewing oil workers at different companies in Libya for an OpenOil report.

"Given the high level of education that is required to have any sort of position in the oil sector, they're all educated enough to realise that the oil sector is what drives the Libyan economy," she said.

But there are still few signs foreign oil firms are prepared to take the plunge.

Oil companies are still mainly visible only in hotel lobbies in the form of security contractors hired to assess infrastructure and monitor threats to security. The first step no doubt, but it is only a tentative move.

The few foreign engineers here are understandably rattled by the constant ring of gunfire even in supposedly peaceful areas like Tripoli, where gun battles between rebels and pockets of Gaddafi loyalists erupted in four districts only a week ago.

Anti-aircraft rocket launchers and machine guns mounted on pick-up trucks across the capital and fighters brandishing AK-47s at every turn do little to soothe worries about further outbreaks of violence.

Foreigners are also disgruntled about a perceived build-up in tension within the new government and between tribes, and some are preparing for the worst.   Continued...

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